Tuesday, October 27, 2015

LONTAR: The Journal of Southeast Asian Speculative Fiction Issue 5

Founding Editor: Jason Erik Lundberg

Many thanks to LONTAR for providing a review copy of this issue.

LONTAR is a biannual literary journal focusing on speculative writing from Southeast Asia. This is the first time I have reviewed an issue of a literary journal, but it won't be the last. I have separated my review into genre-based sections, listing the pieces with the author's name and country. 


“The Woman in the Coffee Shop” and “The New World” by Christina Sng (Singapore)
“Moulding” by Sokunthary Svay (Cambodia/USA)
“Tooth” by Daryl WJ Lim (Singapore)
“Apocalypse” by Tania De Rozario (Singapore)
“The Interview” by Lee Jing-Jing (Singapore/Netherlands)
“A Marriage of Hybrids” and “Lambana” by Joel Donato Jacob (Philippines)

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of most of the poems in this volume. I’m not really a fan of poetry in general, and the amount of speculative poetry I have read is minuscule (mostly confined to Edgar Allen Poe, unfortunately!), so I’m not the best person to judge these pieces. That being said, my favorites were the last two poems by Joel Donato Jacob, which are written on themes taken from Filipino mythology: the Tikbalang, a creature that abducts and forcibly marries young women; and the Lambana, the Filipino equivalent of Will o’ the Wisps. 


“Let the Stupid Ones Die” by Massimo Morello (Italy/Thailand)

Massimo Morello recounts the time he spent with an old Buddhist monk in a remote area of Thailand.

I’m not sure what this piece is doing in a journal of speculative writing. The author mentions a few things about local ghosts at the beginning, but then he doesn't say anything else about them.  

Graphic Fiction

“We Still Need to Makan” by Benjamin Chee (Singapore)

In a haunting combination, a recipe for Chinese Mushrooms is combined with images of fighting, anthropomorphized weaponry.

I like the idea of including graphic fiction as well (it is also something I am trying to incorporate into my blog), but I wasn’t sure what this particular piece was trying to convey. Something about war being the same as cooking?


“No Man Is” by Ng Yi-Sheng (Singapore)

One day, I decided to be an island. I took off my clothes and walked into the sea, then floated there, bobbing along with the tide, suspended by my inflatable tube and water wings. 
So begins the tale of this story's narrator. His grandmother visits him in her kayak, bringing him snacks and cell phones and radios and other treats - that is, until he floats away, makes love with a pirate, and joins an archipelago.

I adored this story. I loved the combination of modern details, quirky narrator, and mythmaking. One of my favorites. 

“The Bear” by Kawika Guillermo (USA)

A six-year-old girl named Rama asks the teacher difficult questions - and won't submit to the punishment of having oxygen removed from her blood. Then she goes missing and the teacher has to find her, or face the consequences.

This story has a disturbing, dystopian premise, supported by little creative details. Teachers with auto-tuned voices to make them always sound nice. A punishment for children that's so harsh that it can physically disfigure them. I would have liked to know more about the world where this story takes place, though. It seems that something happened to make the children locked into these school/torture chambers, and I would be interested in knowing what that was. 

“Blackbirds Emerging From the Sun” by Erica Verrillo (USA)

On the last day before the end of the world, the narrator makes food for her newly married friends and dwells on the simple things in life - like a homemade batik that she calls "Blackbirds Emerging From the Sun." 

What happens when the world is about to end? According to this story, it is the time to appreciate the simple things and spend time with friends. The writing is beautiful and dreamy. 

“Siren” by Amanda Lee Koe (Singapore/USA)

The tale of the merlion, a boy born of a mermaid and a lion-like man, in present-day Singapore. 

Easily the best piece in this volume, the author takes the merlion, national symbol of Singapore, and tries to interpret where he came from. The narrator is a bystander, who witnesses first the merlion’s torture in school, and then meets him again when he’s working as a transgender prostitute. This is interspersed with erotic descriptions of how the merlion came to be in the first place – a mermaid seduced a fisherman, who then gave her pleasure for the first time. 

“The Spurned Bride’s Tears, Centuries Old, in the Rain” by Gord Sellar (Canada/South Korea)

Rizal, a street kid in present-day Jakarta, has a strange vision when he meets a wealthy Chinese woman: he sees the woman as an elderly man, and himself as a hopeless, shame-filled woman. The vision is from another time. Rizal tries to make sense of this vision and fight off his suddenly consuming need to kill this stranger.

I loved this story. A tale from the Mahabharata comes alive on the streets of a modern city when two of the characters meet in another rebirth. 

LONTAR Issue 5 can be purchased as an ebook from Weightless Books, or as a hard copy from Epigram Books.

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